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Leading Somali Islamic cleric calls on Somalis to prepare to fight Ethiopian army


3:04 a.m. July 3, 2006

MOGADISHU, Somalia – A leading Islamic cleric called on Somalis to prepare to fight Ethiopian troops believed to have entered into Somalia, where Islamic militias now control a significant portion of the country.

“Ethiopians have been illegally crossing our border since earlier last month and now they are in some parts of our territory but, God willing, they will regret,” Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said Sunday. He urged Somalis to come together and confront Ethiopia, describing the country as “the enemy number one of the Somali people.”

Several residents in the border town of Beled-Hawo said about 100 troops from Ethiopia had crossed into their town Saturday. Ahmed, who chairs the executive council of the Islamists who with their allies control most of southern Somalia, said Ethiopian troops had also in recent weeks entered Somalia's southwestern region of Gedo and the central region of Hiraan.

Ethiopia has not responded to the allegations, but it has denied in the past sending troops into Somalia.

The president of Somalia's secular interim government, Abdullahi Yusuf, is allied with Ethiopia and has asked for its support. Ethiopia has intervened in Somalia in the past to prevent Islamic extremists from taking power.

Ahmed's comments came a day after Osama bin Laden warned in an audio message posted on the Internet that al-Qaeda will fight any foreign troops that enter Somalia. Ahmed, however, denied having any ties with al-Qaeda.

In his message, bin Laden lashed out at Yusuf, calling him a “traitor” and a “renegade.” He warned other countries, including Islamic ones, not to get involved in Somalia's conflict.

“We pledge that we will fight your soldiers on the land of Somalia and we will fight you on your own land if you dispatch troops to Somalia,” bin Laden said.

Ismail Hurreh, one of Somalia's several deputy prime ministers, told The Associated Press that bin Laden has been involved in Somalia since 1992, taking advantage of the country's lawlessness and anarchy and forming terrorist cells.

“The current tape indicates his new objective in Somalia,” said Hurreh, who is also regional cooperation minister. “The government will not accept Somalia becoming another Afghanistan.”

Since the Islamists took over most of southern Somalia last month, there have been signs their rule might be moderate: The group agreed to recognize the interim government and stop all military action. But last weekend, it replaced a relatively moderate cleric as its leader with Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is on the U.S. terrorist watch list as a suspected al-Qaeda collaborator.

The militia then announced that it would not consult anybody about its rule.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by violence and clan law.


Associated Press writer Salad Duhul contributed to this report from Mogadishu, Somalia.

Source: AP, July 3, 2006

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